("Did you not see the ‘No Solicitors’ sign?" PicProps: 360Fitness.Com)
At this point, it’s pretty hard to imagine Jorge Rivera as anything besides the grizzled 38-year-old MMA veteran who’s compiled 12 fights in the Octagon during an on-again, off-again seven-year career with the UFC. Maybe that’s why Rivera’s Sunday trip down memory lane with serious journalist Ben Fowlkes – which we’re led to believe is the first installment of a recurring series by MMA Fighting where fighters reflect on their first pro bouts – is so damned compelling.
Back in 2001, Rivera was just a wet-behind-the-ears 29-year-old when he showed up at a “Reality Superfighting” event called “Attack at the Track” in Chester, WV to make his pro debut against Hammer House competitor and future UFC washout Brandon Lee Hinkle. Details on the exact location are sketchy, but from the clever name we can only assume the show took place at some kind of seedy dog/horse/stock car racing venue in a town boasting a population of 2,592, according to its own Wikipedia page. Sounds lovely.
"I really just wanted to know how good I was, because I honestly had no idea,” remembers Rivera, who’d had a couple amateur fights before turning pro. “It turned out the other guy was much better."
Yeah, it was a pretty ambitious first effort from “El Conquistador.” At the time, Hinkle had been a pro for three years and already had nine fights under his belt. Sure, he was 4-5, but that mark included bouts against such pioneering MMA luminaries as Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Carlos Barreto, Travis Fulton and Maurice Smith in vale tudo contests in Japan and Brazil. In retrospect it’s easy to see Rivera was in way over his head, especially when you consider that the dude running Hinkle’s corner had just won the Pride open-weight grand prix a year earlier.
"I was extremely nervous,” Rivera says. “At that time he had Mark Coleman in his corner, who had been the UFC champion (and) Pride champion. I remember looking over at Coleman in his corner and just being in complete awe. Then I said to myself, put your head down and fuck it, let’s go."
Rivera got out to a decent start, knocking Hinkle’s mouthpiece out with a right hand that he says “had him on queer street for a second.” Then the Hammer House got down to what the Hammer House did best and Hinkle landed Rivera on his back. From there, Hinkle pounded him en route to a TKO early in the second round. The beating he took would likely have resulted in a quicker stoppage today, but Rivera says Din Thomas — his future castmate on “The Ultimate Fighter” season four who was the referee that night — was more than happy to take more of a hands-off approach.
“(Hinkle) just beat the piss out of me …,” Rivera says. “You know, they should have stopped it sooner, honestly. Din Thomas … told us before the fight, ‘Look to your corner to stop the fight, because I’m not going to stop the fight.’ Of course, when you’re in a fight, you’re stupid. You don’t ever think they should stop the fight. But honestly, he should have stopped that fight."
Rivera went back to Milford, Mass. (Milford, what!) and tried to hide the damage with sunglasses, but to no avail.
"My eyes were so swollen. My nose was broken. My face was all bruised up. I was a mess, man,” Rivera says. “I remember my son looking at me and it was like he was afraid of me, seeing my face like that. It just gave me more fire to train harder and to come back."
Funny how shit works out sometimes: Rivera went on to have a mostly successful future career, which currently includes a three-fight UFC win-streak and an upcoming bout with Alessio Sakara at UFC 122. Hinkle, on the other hand, is still best known as the guy who smashed the guy who beat up Kimbo Slice in a basement. After beating up the hapless Sean Gannon at UFC 55 (an event where, oddly enough, Rivera defeated Dennis Hallman), Hinkle had rough goes of it against Jeff Monson and Jason Lambert and got himself cut from the UFC. His most recent bout took place in March of last year and ended in a TKO loss to Chris Tuchscherer at a casino in North Dakota, which was probably almost as nice as that racetrack in Nowheresville, WV.
Oh, the main event of “Attack at the Track” when Hinkle beat Rivera back in 2001? It was Dan Severn vs. Wes Sims. With a card like that, it’s a safe bet those West Virginia hicks had no idea what they were getting for their money that night.